The pain of not playing for the Class AAA championship could be seen in all the tears that flowed freely from numerous Cartersville players — both on the field and in the locker room — who for the past 13 weeks had grown accustomed to winning.
Instead it will be Buford who will play St. Pius for the Class AAA state championship next Friday at the Georgia Dome.
What will forever be remembered about Game 14 of the 2012 season is that the Canes led 10-0 before two costly turnovers turned the game in Buford’s favor.
“We played our hearts out, but we just didn’t execute well in key situations,” said coach Frank Barden, as he watched players and fans console one another.
The somber scene that took place was something Cartersville’s home crowd could not imagine happening after Preston Slemp kicked a 20-yard field goal in the first quarter and quarterback Brooks Barden and wide receiver Mark Quattlebaum combined for a 15-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
“We came out early and got after them,” coach Barden said.
Slemp’s field goal culminated the opening drive of the first-ever Class AAA state semifinal game played at Weinman Stadium. Using a no-huddle offense, the Canes marched from their 15-yard line to the Wolves’ 3-yard line before coach Barden sent in his field goal unit at 7:39 of the first quarter.
Cartersville extended its 3-0 lead by a touchdown thanks to two key pass receptions by Kalin Health and two costly Buford penalties.
The Canes’ last scoring drive of the season started at their own 34-yard line with 6:46 remaining in the second half. Nobody knew at the time but the Canes would not score again following Quattlebaum’s touchdown reception at 5:38.
Then came the turning point in the game and in the season for both teams.
“We got off to a real good start, but it’s real hard to take what happened,” Wyndham Laye, Cartersville starting offensive lineman, said.
Still holding a 10-0 lead with a little more than three minutes remaining before halftime, coach Barden called for a pass play with Cartersville facing second-and-7 at its own 18-yard line.
Groans reverberated throughout Weinman Stadium when Buford’s Korie Rogers intercepted Brooks Barden’s pass at the Canes’ 15-yard line.
After converting on fourth-and-1 at Cartersville’s 6-yard line, Dontravious Wilson silenced the Canes’ momentum with his touchdown run from 2 yards out.
With Matthew Bonadies’ extra point, it was Canes 10-7 at halftime.
“We were still behind then, but I knew we were beginning to wear them down,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “We made some adjustments, especially in the second half. The key though was stopping their running game and turning them into a one-dimensional team.”
Neither team could do much in the third quarter as Cartersville and Buford took turns punting the ball away.
“We came out strong in the second half,” coach Barden said. “We stopped them early on, and we went after them every chance we got.”
That is until Buford’s second interception of the game at 1:31 of the third quarter.
The Wolves needed to go only 40 yards to take a 14-10 lead on Joshua Thomas’ 3-yard run early in the fourth quarter. After forcing Cartersville to punt on its next offensive possession, Buford solidified its sixth straight trip to the state finals on a 14-yard scoring pass from quarterback Montgomery VanGorder to Isaac Natau.